Friday 28 February 2014

Hotel Principal, C/ Junta de Comerç, Barcelona

Centrally located in Barcelona's edgy El Raval district, Hotel Principal is a timeworn establishment with small bedrooms and jaded staff. Downstairs, the hotel retains some historic appeal - massive wooden doors dating from the 19th century lead up to a grand staircase. But the remaining period features have been overwhelmed by functional fixtures and fittings, naff prints and an array of knick-knacks. Furnished and decorated on a budget, the cramped en-suite bedrooms tend to be short of daylight. Still, the beds are comfortable enough and the free WiFi works surprisingly well for a three-star hotel. The en-suite bathrooms are in reasonable condition and there are small safes in the wardrobes (3 euros a day for a key). Despite the thin walls, hard floors and tendency for doors to slam, it can be surprisingly quiet on the fourth floor at night (perhaps due to a lack of guests). Stairs on the fifth floor lead to an extensive, but basic, terrace with views over the surrounding rooftops.

Thursday 27 February 2014

Casa Guinart, La Rambla, Barcelona

A surprisingly authentic tapas bar in the heart of Barcelona's tourist district, Casa Guinart dates from 1899 and is right next to the city's famous Boqueria Market. Sitting at the bar watching the chefs at work, surrounded by appealing morsels, is much more fun than sitting at a table upstairs. The tapas, which start at about four euros, are a mixture of classics and specials, presumably reflecting what the chefs could source from the market next door. Although the portions are fairly modest, the flavours can be excellent. The spicy patatas bravas, served with a large dollop of alioli, is delicious and filling, while the smoked sardines on tomato bread is fresh and delicious. The ham croquettes are very soft and moreish, while the chunky anchovies with olives have plenty of zing. Beer is pricey for Barcelona at about 5 euros for a half litre. Bewarned, the lively staff can get confused with the orders if you are sitting at the bar and you might get someone else's dish. Casa Guinart isn't cheap, but you will eat well. 8/10

Sunday 16 February 2014

The Crown, Chiddingfold, Surrey

An extraordinarily well-preserved ancient inn, The Crown is first and foremost a timepiece. Although the fine old Tudor facade can be marred by the cars parked in front, the immaculate interior might take your breath away. This venerable old pub has a succession of beautifully atmospheric rooms with battered beamed ceilings, lead-paned windows, dark wooden panelling, faded old paintings and suitably distinguished furniture. If anything, it is all too perfect - it can feel like you have stumbled into a posh period drama set. Even the punters seem to dress in conservative garb in sober colours.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Lincoln Inn's Old Hall, central London

Dating from the 15th century, the Old Hall of Lincoln's Inn's handsome red brickwork is decorated with blue diamonds. In the heart of legal London, the hall was once the living room of the lawyers that originally inhabited Lincoln's Inn, according to the Guide to the Architecture of London. 

Monday 10 February 2014

Le Meridien, Munich, Germany

Slap bang in the noisy centre of Munich near the central station, Le Meridien is a convenient and comfortable business hotel. The stylish, spacious reception is kitted out with funky rounded seating and tables illuminated by the daylight flooding in through the glass wall overlooking an impressive atrium garden. Some of the receptionists are chatty and helpful, but aren't great at estimating walking distances.